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Dark side of Bollywood: Racism exists in Hindi film industry

Be it off-screen or onscreen, Bollywood has an ugly belly that hides innumerable tales of racism and elitism, especially against outsiders

Calling Nawazuddin Siddiqui an average actor, Rishi Kapoor recently had said, “You (Siddiqui) haven’t done it (running around trees) in your life; neither will you get a chance to do it. And you aren’t capable of doing it either. You don’t have the image; you don’t have the talent.” Clearly, Kapoor was alluding to Siddiqui’s unconventional looks.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Rishi Kapoor recently lashed out against Nawazuddin Siddiqui  stating that the latter was not capable of running around trees in his films

In a country obsessed with fair skin, it is perhaps no wonder that Bollywood has still not managed to steer away from racism. Time and again, dusky actresses — and actors too — in Bollywood have faced the brunt of this racism, even though internationally, dark-skinned celebrities have done well for themselves. Be it comments, lyrics of songs or dialogues in films, racism has raised its ugly head in Bollywood on several occasions and it continues to do so.

Bipasha Basu
Bipasha Basu was apparently referred to as 'kali billi' (black cat) by fellow actress, Kareena Kapoor. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

One instance would be when Kareena Kapoor apparently described Bipasha Basu as a ‘kali billi’ (black cat), referring to Basu’s dusky complexion. The comment raked up a controversy with Basu refusing to make any comments on the same.

Past instances
In the past too, there have been many cases where racism was evident. The late Smita Patil, touted as one of the finest actresses in the industry, faced it too.

Smita Patil
Smita Patil, seen here in a still from the film, Bhumika, was discriminated against due to her dark skin

Mahesh Bhatt, who worked with Smita Patil in Arth, says, “Smita was never apologetic about her looks. She refused to conform to the prescribed maxims of the film industry. Culturally, the word ‘kali’ or ‘kala’ was used to demean someone.

Our minds are coloured by the racism that was practised by the British during their rule in India, and it takes years to unshackle oneself from this slave mentality. We may have won political freedom, but socially, we are still slaves to such a backward mindset.”

Manoj Bajpai
Despite his impressive performance in Zubeida, a critic told Manoj Bajpai that he didn’t look anything like a prince in the film

Back in 2001, Manoj Bajpai played Raja Vijendra Singh in Shyam Benegal’s Zubeida, but his role attracted some mean comments, including one that said that he was unsuitable to play a prince.

Recollects Bajpai, “Many stars had refused the project, after which Shyam Benegal approached me for the role. I told him that I hardly look like royalty, to which he said that none of the princes look better than me. I then took on the role but when the film released, despite the rave reviews I got for my performance, one critic said in his review that I didn’t look anything like a prince. Now that really hurt me.”

Usha Jadhav

National award-winning actress, Usha Jadhav, too has faced problems due to her skin colour. She says, “Many producers refused to cast me because of the colour of my skin. They’d say that they want a fair girl to play the heroine.”

Dhanush
Filmmaker Anand Rai’s decision to cast Dhanush in his film, Raanjhanaa, was met with scepticism

Filmmaker Aanand Rai remembers how his decision to cast Dhanush as the main lead in his film, Raanjhanaa, was met with scepticism. “I was told that the hero has to fair and good-looking as that is what the audiences want today. Particularly in north India, a good-looking person is a fair skinned person. When people see such a person, he / she is asked to become a hero/ heroine. Of course, I didn’t let such talk affect my decision-making,” he says.

Actress Nandita Das is another name who is only too aware of the racist side of Bollywood. Lending her support to the ‘Dark is beautiful’ campaign that fights this obsession with fair skin, she points out that the film industry has been glorifying white skin for a long time.

Nandita Das

“This reflects how biased our society is. We keep saying things like, ‘Uska rang saaf hai’ while referring to fair-skinned people; it’s as if dark skin is a dirty thing. This mindset is then propagated in our songs, stories, myths and fables,” she points out.

Recent examples
In the film, Fashion, a drug-addled Priyanka Chopra is shown to become aware of her character’s breakdown when she finds herself in bed with an African American; never mind her initial love affairs with her boss and her colleague. In What’s Your Rashee, Priyanka’s parents object to her relationship with a half-African, half-Gujarati boy.

Similarly, many foreign actresses are said to have found a foothold in the industry due to their white complexion. And while many political parties have opposed this ‘influx’, an industry insider says that producers cast white girls because they are usually in great shape and are willing to do bold scenes. “Not many Indian actresses are comfortable wearing a bikini in front of the camera. But foreign actresses have no such qualms, making them popular contenders for certain roles,” says this insider.

All said and done, there is no mistaking the racist and elitist attitudes of some of the ‘privileged’ ones in Bollywood.

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18 Comments

  • Sridhar25-Mar-2014

    Rishi Kapoor's comments perfectly fit a certain actor called Amitabh Bachchan when he entered the film industry in 1969. He went on to become the Shahenshah of acting not just doing angry young man roles but comical and romantic ones with eqaul aplomb. His pairing with Rekha set the screen on fire. Chintu baba pls shed your superiority complex. Filmworld is not your family property.

  • Kelpha25-Mar-2014

    Producers themselves not racist. They confirm to what the public wants out of a lead couple. They want people to fantasize about the lead couple. Now this will remain the case for mainstream movies. But cut to realistic film makers like Dibakar, Hansal Mehta, Vishal Bhardwaj, Anurag Kashyap, Tigmanshu Dhulia, etc, they dont have any such qualms, Rather they cast according to requirement. Comment from Rishi Kapoor was in real bad taste. But Nawaz would know this and doesnt act in mainstream

  • Sehar25-Mar-2014

    Well i have never found Mr. Rishi Kapoor as attractive or even remotely handsome..He just has a bad mouth...Beauty always lies in features not complexion..Lisa haydon ws lukn far more beautiful than Kangna in Queen..though she has dusky complexion..If John Abraham is handsome so is R. Madhavan (ofcrse slimmer version)

  • Dan25-Mar-2014

    Awesome article. India, my India--when will you grow up?

  • jonn118-Apr-2014

    UqToMm Thank you for your article post. Great.

  • Cyberman25-Mar-2014

    India is the only reported country where you can get to buy a Fair & Handsome cream. By nature Indians are more Racist than anyone else (Thanks to British, who intoxicated this into our blood). I always wonder why anybody from Southern India is referred to as "Madraasi" & anyone from up-north to "Punjaabi". A very often wordings heard Delhi is "Abey Saale Bihaari"...What makes me wonder is the very same people get offended in the west....Being a fellow Indian I do feel ashamed of this behavior.

  • indiashiningmyarse25-Mar-2014

    Atleast someone is pointing it out. Nice article. SRK promotes fairness cream...WHERE IS HE HIDING??? When the entire world is wondering what happened to the Malaysian airlines, our man posts his son getting kissed by two girls!!!The same man who received the "Datuk" from the Malaysian Govt!!! Way to go SRK...u really r such a role model.

  • Canadian Desi25-Mar-2014

    So what's new? This is pre-historic and reflects the mindset of the average man in India not necessarily Bollywood alone.

  • Syed Ali25-Mar-2014

    This article is not correctly reported. This is not called racism. Racism is when you go against people or persons of other race. Here all are Indians. What you are talking of here is arrogance, cultural differences, pre-conceived superiority complexes. I don't think saying kali to Smita Patil or Bipasha is racism. Yes it is when you do it to an African origin person.

  • nisha25-Mar-2014

    India needs to change its mindset.A person should be beautiful by inside(heart),but feautures matter for a person not color ... understand this ppl.

  • chitra25-Mar-2014

    nazawuddin one of the best actors india has ever produced...

  • Anne25-Mar-2014

    Those Kapoors have everybody blindly wrapped around their little finger just because of their "lineage." I see no physical appeal in either Kareena and Ranbir, they're both less attractive than most of their contemporaries and yet everybody praises them. They're extremely overrated and do not even represent the Indian population in the least. Rishi only show his class when he speaks. Open your eyes people! Stop giving these entitled arses your money!

  • Zaheer Khan25-Mar-2014

    Before we start bashing bollywood, lets see what we do in our personal life. Don't men want fair skinned wives, don't girls want fair skinned husbands. Don't parents want fair skinned children. For a country where majority people are dark skinned, fair skin shall always be desirable.

  • shakuntela25-Mar-2014

    The statement kareena made Kali bili is something normal! Why you reffer a kali bili as rascim!? By the way we have enough dark skinned girla in btown!!! Priyanka, deepika, bipasha... but its there complex no one forced them tgey used the fair skin creams!! Cheap of these actress.. and noe deepika dont look at all dusky chi chi chi...

  • A M25-Mar-2014

    Kareena has only her fair skin to call herself beautiful.. Nothing that can be vaguely called beautiful in her features. So obviously she would bank on taking the Aryan myth of "fair skin being the only real beauty" forward!

  • zafar 25-Mar-2014

    Racism is something that make us divide we must not discriminate anyone since everyone is unique and incomparable.we should judge people by their wisdom and knowledge not by their apperance.since appearance would fade however,knowledge and wisdom would be intact and could be more than that.

  • atish25-Mar-2014

    rishi u belong to star family. u had a godfather, Nawazuddin Siddiqui worked hard to get into industry he is a successful actor. ask your son to get into his shoes.

  • Parshuram tambe25-Mar-2014

    same on you kapooors...

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